Emraan Hashmi might not be such a talented actor, but he does have a penchant for raking up a huge controversy, for the right or wrong reasons. This time he has succeeded in unleashing an unprecedented media frenzy – there were spate of TV debates, articles in newspapers and feverish comments in the blog universe. The media frenzy took off when he was heard claiming that the Nibana Co-operative society located in Mumbai’s plush Pali Hill area refused to grant him a NOC to purchase a flat because he is a Muslim. “Do I look like a terrorist?” he asked in a flamboyant manner at a press conference where his mentor Mahesh Bhatt flanked him. Of course, he doesn’t.
As the case involves a high profile Bollywood actor, the media establishment pounced on the story like a swarm of hungry vultures. Here was an irrevocable proof of the fact that the majority community is racist – that seemed to be inference of all the celebrities who descended in the TV studios to debate the issue. Shabana Azmi made intermittent appearances on many TV channels talking about the difficulties that she had herself faced in buying a house. Shatrudhan Sinha did not arrive at the TV studios, but he spoke to a reporter. He criticized Emraan Hashmi for raking up a minor issue despite the love and respect that he had received from his millions of Hindu fans.
In the debate on NDTV 24/7 Rajiv Pratap Rudy represented the Hindutva brigade. As usual, he was vociferous in putting forth his views and was unwilling to listen to anyone. “My way or the highway” syndrome! Salman Khurshid was seen treading the middle path. He seemed more concerned about appeasing vote banks, than in speaking the truth. There was Shahid Siddiqui, but he didn’t have much to offer, except clichés. In the Times Now debate Mahesh Bhatt was not ready to allow anyone else to speak. He kept going monotonously, daring viewers to switch off the channel. Supposedly his daughter Pooja is facing problem in getting some property transferred in her name.
But there was one thing missing from all the debates that were held on TV and the articles that appeared in the newspapers. No one bothered to take the opinion from the housing society. How difficult is it to send a reporter to Pali Hill? As of now, we only have Emraan Hashmi’s version of events - that he was denied a NOC by the Nibana Cooperative Society because he is a Muslim. But his own words make it clear that the members of the society didn’t say this to him directly. He claims that he has already paid rupees 1 lakh as token amount for the flat, but again there is no proof of his having done this. According to some sources, Hashmi has not paid anything to the flat owner.
In another twist to this alleged episode of religious profiling, a police complaint has been filed against the actor, accusing him of promoting enmity between different communities. The police complaint filed by Sanjay Bedia, a social activist and the executive member of BJP’s National Youth Committee, accuses Hashmi and filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt of various offences under IPC. The adverse publicity that this case has garnered forced M D Suvarna, the owner of the flat, which Emran Hashmi was planning to buy, to suddenly withdraw his offer. Suvarna claims that his son living in Canada has now changed his mind and does not want this flat to be sold.
Anyway, despite the thousands of words squandered on the issue, we still don’t have a coherent solution to the problem that ordinary Muslims and people of other religions and castes face while buying property. Emran Hashmi is a celebrity, he is a rich film star, and so he is going to have very less sympathy from the general public. After all, he has the financial muscle to buy a flat anywhere in the world. But what about the middle class Muslims? During the 1980s even the Sikh community faced a similar problem. There is also no dearth of groups, which do their best to keep Bengalis, Christians and other non-vegetarians out of their housing society.
But when the victim of discrimination is a middle class individual, our celebrity-obsessed media will not condescend to take notice. It may be harsh on Hashmi, but someone may ask where was he when others were discriminated or persecuted in his own city and backyard. However, there is no doubt that something has to be done to stop the rampant ghettoization of urban India. We should be having colonies where people from all parts of the country and of different religions can live together. Unfortunately, there is a tendency in most people to live in their own ghettoes; some do it willingly, while others are forced to do it.
By the way, Emran Hashmi can take solace from the fact that even if he didn’t bag the flat of his choice, he did manage to get awesome amount of free publicity. But for this controversy, people like me who don’t watch too many movies would never have learned about his existence.
Published in August 31, 2009 issue of Media Spectrum